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Dr. Richard C. Weeks

"Local not Universal" Church Series #5

I. How could the local New Testament church be the body of Christ, because local New Testament churches quite likely have some unconverted members in them and this would mean Christ's body is imperfect which is an impossibility?

  • 1. Most dispensationalists (Plymouth Brethren or even Scofield type of dispensationalist, such as I with modifications) do believe that the local church (assembly) is a body of Christ. (I Cor. 12:27-28) In other words we would speak of the Calvary Baptist Church of Watertown as "a body of Christ. " So the argumental point turns against itself.

  • 2. However, the same logic implicit in the argument can be turned against the idea of a universal, invisible church. What is perfection? Anything with the slightest bit of sin is imperfect, less than perfect. Every born again Christian is highly imperfect. He retains the old rotten nature and so if the body of Christ of church is conceived of as the aggregate of all saved (universal and invisible) people, it is very imperfect. It will not do to spiritualize this and say that our righteousness is in Christ. That is avoiding the question. Saved people are real people and they have a real sin nature, and only real people could be part of even a universal and invisible church or body of Christ.

  • 3. Perfection of a local body of Christ is not what God requires. A body of Christ will function better accordingly as it has a less degree of imperfection but all local churches have imperfections and usually quite a bit. So when Jesus said He would build His church he was fully aware of the many imperfections that would result. Nevertheless, it is still His Church and still His Body. The only perfection is in His own literal person. The church is His body because it is the body (vehicle) He has established through which to do His work (The work of the Gospel).

II. How could Jesus have many bodies when there is only one head Himself?

Admittedly the representation is figurative, and because it is figurative there is no problem. Jesus can be the head of each of His local bodies because He functions spiritually not physically. To deny this would also be to reject the truth of John 1:16, "And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. " How can the fullness of Christ be in every believer simultaneously? The answer to that is the same as the answer to this question, we are dealing with spiritual realities and truths not merely physical substances.

III. Why Be concerned about the Scriptural concept of the "Church"?

  • l. The seriousness of the truth about the nature of the church is that the emphasis upon a universal or invisible church takes the emphasis off of the Scriptural teaching of the absolute uniqueness and paramount importance in the Gospel work of local churches. The un-Biblical approach is illustrated by Newell in his book on Revelation, e. g. on page 382 where he speaks of the so-called universal or invisible church as the "true" church. Not only is this a wrong emphasis, but in logic and language if one church is "true" then the other is "untrue." So if the so-called universal and invisible church is the "true'' church, the local church is the "untrue" or false church. Here again we see the use of the word "true" in this connection to be completely un-Biblical and thus to make the concept of a universal invisible church highly suspect.

  • 2. The second reason for concern in the nature of the church has to do with the ecumenical church movement. The doctrine of a so-called universal and invisible church fits right into the ecumenical order. For if the ''true" church or "real" church consists of all Christians then the reasoning goes that we all ought to be in the one organized church on earth. But with the emphasis that the only true church (assembly) is a local, independent, autonomous New Testament church (assembly), the ecumenical moveinent would be defeated before it was started. Independent churches are now located around the world and so are in that sense universal, but they are real live, tangible, visible churches which are doing the work of Christ.

IV. (Argument for a universal church)

The "assembling" definition of ecclesia argument does not apply to a local church either because a local church is not constantly in the state of being assembled. It only assembles several times a week and then for a very brief period. Most of the time during the week it is not in meeting i.e., is unassembled, so it could not rightfully be an "assembly" the overwhelming share of time.

The above argument is not only illogical, but also it shows very superficial or even deficient thinking. The fact of a local church (ecclesia) accurately being defined as an "assembly" certainly does not imply that for 23 hours and 60 minutes out of a 24 hour day the assembly will be in a constant state of being assembled. It simply defines the nature of the unit. Even more than defining a function it becomes a language designation or title of an organization, democratically composed, that meets as a visible local body to conduct its affairs democratically.

A local Greek assembly of that time was not in a constant state of being assembled. BUT IT DID HAVE THE CAPACITY TO ASSEMBLE AND DID EXERCISE THE FUNCTION OF ASSEMBLING INCLUDING VISIBLE LOCAL DEMOCRATIC ACTION. None of those aspects could characterize a so called invisible universal church.

V. Provocative Reasoning

That which started me to rethink this whole question just a few years ago was several things.

  • 1. I began to feel that it would be very strange if Jesus in building His church would go ahead and build two vastly different churches and that it would be strange if He had in mind when He uttered Matthew 16:18 two vastly different churches that He was going to build. To say the least, He would be creating a great deal of confusion.

  • 2. But, I could not deny that Matthew 18:17 as spoken by Christ referred to a local visible autonomous church.

  • 3. I came to see that the translation of "ecclesia" by the English word "church" was a monstrous mistake and had resulted in great evils.

  • 4. Was there another type of church Jesus had plans in building? As I searched the book of Acts, I could find no Apostles, including Paul, who knew anything about a church concept other than a local church.

Thus whether or not one believes in two greatly varying types of churches, one is forced to acknowledge that the emphasis in the Book of Acts as well as the entire New Testament is upon the local church. So here, regardless of other feeling, we too must put our emphasis.

However, do not believe this on my authority. Search the Scriptures for yourself. A belief is worthless unless it comes out of personal conviction.


Vedder, Short History of the Baptists, pp. 45# 46

"In the earliest Christian literature, after the apostolic period, we may trace three tendencies toward degeneration, all proceeding from this common cause, developing along lines parallel at first, yet distinct, afterward converging, and at length constituting a logical, consistent whole. These are: the idea of a Holy Catholic Church, the ministry a priesthood, and sacramental grace.

Jesus prayed that His disciples might be one, and His apostleS taught that the church is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and therefore both one and holy. Early in the second century, however, these ideas assumed a different form from that of the New Testament. The Churches were conceived of as forming together one Church, not spiritual merely, but visible, extending throughout the world, and therefore Catholic (i. e., universal). Persecution doubtless had much to do with emphasizing in the minds of Christians their unity, but an exaggerated notion of the value of formal oneness came to prevail, until schism was reckoned the deadliest of sins a Christian could commit. The preservation of outward unity thus becoming the paramount consideration, it followed that whatever error a majority in the church might come to hold, the minority must accept it, rather than be guilty of this deadly sin of schism. This ideal of a Holy Catholic Church, outside of which was no salvation, unity with which was necessary to unity with Christ, prepared the way for all the corruptions that were introduced."

Go to: "Ecclesia" or "Church"
"Local not Universal" Church Series #6

A Testimony to Dr Weeks by Pastor Montgomery
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